As a highly versatile key mainstay metal, copper has been a building block of humanity’s progress. As a gateway metal, it yields access to critical minerals. It also is an energy metal — an indispensable component for advanced energy technologies, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels.
But for all its traditional and new applications and surging demand in the context of the green energy transition, copper is currently not considered a “critical mineral” by the U.S. government.
A group of members of Congress have set out to change this, and have sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the designation of copper as an official U.S. Geological Survey Critical Mineral.
The letter sent by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ind.-Ariz.), joined by Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) cites new findings by the Copper Development Association (CDA) indicating that copper’s increased supply risk surpasses the USGS threshold necessary to be added to the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List.
“By recognizing copper as a ‘critical mineral,’ the United States’ federal government can more effectively ensure a secure and reliable supply of domestic copper resources in the years to come at all points of the supply chain including recycling, mining, and processing. Given the enormous investment required, the time lag for new sources of supply, and projected demand, time is of the essence,” wrote the Senators.
In a recent piece that also calls for a reassessment of copper’s current non-critical mineral designation, Cullen S. Hendrix with the Peterson Institute for International Economics argues that while copper is widely mined and processed relative to listed critical minerals on the U.S. government’s list, “the security of diffuse global supply chains and production in US-friendly economies is still vulnerable to disruptions in producer countries. The ability and willingness of copper producing countries to keep supplying copper can change rapidly.”
He points to current trends in Peru, a key copper mining country, where resource nationalism has reared its head, as well as developments in neighboring Chile, that may indeed affect both countries’ “ability and willingness” to supply copper to the global market and elaborates that “designating copper as critical to national and economic security would lead to enhanced scrutiny from the USGS, which tracks minerals markets, production, and reserves. Industry advocates also believe that the designation might lead to streamlined permitting processes that would facilitate more domestic production.”
In an interview, Sen. Sinema said that “[t]his should be a no-brainer,” adding that “[w]e have major gaps in both our ability to mine and process these minerals to ensure our energy security for the future, and the administration knows how important copper is to our domestic and national security.”
As followers of ARPN well know, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has called for the designation of copper as a critical mineral on several occasions, and has submitted public comments to USGS to this effect.
The U.S. Government Critical Mineral List is updated at least every three years and saw its last update in late 2022, but the underlying statute stipulates that the Secretary of the Interior can designate additional materials to be added — and with geopolitical tensions and resource nationalism on the rise against the backdrop of surging copper demand, now would be a good time to change copper’s designation to “critical.”